The apostle Peter writes that “the end of all things is at hand”1 in the first of two letters to Christians that had been scattered abroad. This verse can raise some questions in regards to the expression “at hand.” Some understand, even insist, that Peter was writing that final judgment and the second coming of Jesus (“the end of all things”) was going to imminently take place (“is at hand”). In fact, the claim is that “at hand” always means imminence.
At least in this case, it does seem like Peter could be saying that the end was about to happen. In fact, one could also point to the use of “at hand” when both John the Baptist declared the “kingdom of heaven is at hand”9. Indeed, the kingdom of heaven did come just a few years later. So was the end of all things at hand when Peter wrote in the first century?
How Scripture answers "Was the end of all things at hand (1 Peter 4:7)?"
There are several reasons why Peter’s statement “the end of all things is at hand”1 was not a declaration of Jesus’ imminent return. In fact, it was a statement about Jesus’ certain, or inevitable, return. In this context1, Peter is expressing urgency (“at hand”) for his real point for these Christians to be ready!
Remember, Peter didn’t have the authority to even speak about the timing of Jesus’ return8. Rather, he wanted to impress a sense of urgency for their continued obedience since Jesus’ return was inevitable. (This fact alone requires that none of the New Testament writers – or Jesus Himself8 – wrote concerning the exact or approximate timing of Jesus’ return. Otherwise, they make Jesus a liar!)
But we can pull the contextual lens further back and look forward to Peter’s second epistle to this same audience for even more clarity. The final third of Peter’s second letter2 is dedicated to squashing any notion that he or they should be focused on the timing aspect8 of Jesus’ return. Rather, again, he addresses its inevitability and their need to be ready2.
Full and harmonious clarity comes if we pull the context lens all the way back, as it were, to examine all Scripture. Indeed, all the New Testament writers pleaded for urgency in one’s obedience in the same way that Peter did1. We also find other “at hand” statements expressing this same inevitability3,4,5,6,7,10. Of course, some do speak of imminence9,10, but definitely not all1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,10.
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Peter’s use of “at hand” in 1 Peter 4:7 brings to mind two thoughts. First, in the heavenly context time means nothing. One day is as a thousand years. And, on earth no one can be sure of continued life. Death is always unpredictably imminent. I believe Peter is telling us to be ready, always ready. We cannot know when this life is over and we are in the timelessness of eternity.
Thanks for your comment. It’s really just very plain, isn’t it? Not sure why folks try to make it so difficult.